This article first appeared in Record of the Day Magazine.
Billboard’s Power 100 has come in for severe criticism this week owing to the predominantly white male make-up of the names on the list. One commentator went so far as calling the list a “sausagefest”. Less than 10% of the list were female and over 90% of the names were white.
These are pretty appalling statistics for an industry that promotes a spectrum of music with black and female performers very often achieving a disproportionate level of success. The diversity issue in general is being hotly debated already by greater minds than mine, but what puzzles me most of all is why we continue to bother with these “power” lists at all? They seem totally anachronistic and out of touch with the modern world in which we operate.
A list of people doing cool stuff seems OK to me. We all want to know the people who are making things happen and breaking through. Perhaps we seek inspiration and ideas to inform our own perspective. That’s fine.
It is the word “power” that is troubling and distorts the make-up of these lists into a tick-box quasi-corporate exercise. It is a word deeply rooted in the culture of show business, a business historically driven by Svengalis and gatekeepers who sought to control talent, media and the market, whether it was movies or music or any other branch of the entertainment industry.
Power lists do not seem to exist to the same degree in other industries. I Googled “Silicon Valley Power 100” and got a renewable energy company in Santa Clara. Wired have a top 100, but prefer to call theirs “influencers”.
I have witnessed a number of these Power 100 people in action and can appreciate what they can achieve in a specific set of circumstances at a specific time. Another way of saying it is these people “make things happen” and you do not necessarily need “power” to make things happen and certainly not in the modern world.
Conversely, no amount of collective “power” from all the Power 100 lists over the past twenty years was able to stop an eighteen year old kid from writing a computer programme that would upend the entire music business. Shawn Fanning did not have any power, but a whole bunch of people downloaded that programme and others like it and the music business changed forever. The whole thing was consumer driven.
What I would love to see and what no music business power list has ever done is this: “Number 1) The Consumer” and then 99 blank spaces, because that is the reality facing the modern music business. This is what should focus our minds.
The music industry is moving in the right direction, but we are still weighed down by this notion of power. UMG may have more power than Beggars Banquet to negotiate terms with a streaming service, but neither company has the power to persuade consumers to adopt such a service. Far more people still use YouTube than any subscription based service whether the industry likes it or not and as Martin Mills pointed out earlier this week, the whole industry has to come together in a fair and transparent manner if there is any hope of addressing the safe harbour/ value gap issue.
Against this backdrop, power lists just seem hopelessly dated. Which is no reflection on the individuals whose names appear on these lists, they are all interesting and engaging people when you have the opportunity to meet them.
Spend time with Marc Geiger and he doesn’t tell you how powerful he is, although he is a powerful personality. He’ll bang on about how great his team are. The WME team are truly awesome and not just the music department, the brands team are incredible. They all weave together brilliantly and there are no weak links. Best of all are the WME assistants: they are the best foot soldiers in the entire entertainment industry bar none – well that is one show business tradition that is still relevant in today’s world, the WME Assistant. Geiger leads and inspires but he cannot do it all himself and neither does anyone else on that list, or elsewhere.
I have yet to meet a music business executive who can do it all, although some are perceived with a Wizard of Oz type mystique. A red carpet schmoozer may be hopeless with contracts and finances. Personally, I’m the other way around. I’m uncomfortable with the red carpet stuff, but if you owe my artist client money I will hunt you down until you pay. At least there were some teams on the Billboard list, acknowledging genuine collaboration.
Ultimately, no one is the Wizard of Oz. We are all people behind a curtain. Finding, developing, nurturing, collaborating, connecting, engaging, expanding and hopefully at the end of all that there is an outcome that people will remember.
Scooter Braun, also on the list, puts this beautifully, albeit in a slightly different context. His most impressive interview of late centred around some advice he received from David Geffen who insisted he read the poem Ithaka, “which is about the journey. It’s always about the journey. And he said something to me I’ll never forget. He said: ‘Hundred years from now, no one’s gonna remember me, and sure as hell no one’s gonna remember you.’ And I realized, he’s right. No one’s gonna remember me. But they’ll feel my impact, and that’s good enough for me.”